Khayelitsha woman won’t be put off teaching

Fed up with the public school system, Neliswa Dludla set up the Early Birds Lifestyle Academy

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Photo of children playing
A Tuesday afternoon at the Early Birds Lifestyle Academy in Site C, Khayelitsha. Neliswa Dludla is centre left in yellow. Photo: Mary-Anne Gontsana

For Neliswa Dludla from Khayelitsha, teaching in the public school system was a bad experience. But she did not want to give up teaching. Instead, she started her own education centre – The Early Birds Lifestyle Academy.

“The well-being of a teacher is non-existent in the public schooling sector … I have experienced patriarchy, ageism and racism,” says Dludla.

But, she says, “I have always wanted to be a teacher”. While studying at UCT she was part of the SHAWCO (Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation) programme and a project leader in Khayelitsha for undergraduate students. She became part of the Numeric Teaching Academy in Observatory in 2016. She has a degree and a Postgraduate Certificate in Education as well as a TESOL (Teaching English to speakers of other languages) qualification.

“I worked in a public school last year, on a contract basis,” says Dludla. “As a new teacher I was handled really badly. My contract did not end well with the school, I was not even told that my contract had ended until the first day of the second school term.”

Dludla says there was a high staff turnover, with learners seeing different teachers every three months.

When she left the school, she was unemployed for three months. She started tutoring children individually to make ends meet. This led to her getting a contract at her former high school, teaching English, life orientation and creative arts and running library sessions. She says she was not paid her full salary and started looking elsewhere.

She had many books, because of her love of reading and so she started a reading club with eight children in the four-roomed house in Site C where she grew up. The numbers kept growing. Parents started getting involved. The reading club became the Early Birds Lifestyle Academy. This year there are 60 learners of primary and high school age who come for lessons after school.

For the very young ones the curriculum includes English, writing, learning through play and physical exercise. For high school learners, Dludla provides support lessons in Mathematics and Physical Science. She also tries to focus on teaching things she feels are neglected in public schools, such as public speaking or fractions or even something as simple as counting to 50.

The academy is closed on Wednesdays and Sundays. Lessons are free, except on Saturdays, when classes are R75. Dludla relies on donations.

The academy is well equipped, with shelves filled with books, a flat screen television, a printer and computers. The walls are used as chalk boards.

Some students at the academy also help teach and tutor the learners.

Registering the academy as a non-profit organisation is still “in progress”. But, says Dludla, registration will require funds.

TOPICS:  Education

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